When we think of children, we imagine tiny tots, vibrant and full of life. Blissful souls, self-assured, bubbling with confidence, yet to face life’s realities. However, as children grow up and interact with people around them, some interactions boost their confidence and motivate them, while others downright discourage and demotivate them. Children must be taught early that such experiences are part of life. They need to consider such interactions only as a stepping stone to empower themselves.
But first, what does empowerment mean, when it comes to children? It means, helping children become aware of their capabilities; and helping them take charge of their lives. The earlier children are empowered, the more resilient they become to face adversities in the future. Such children (when they become adults) find within them, the ability to surmount obstacles, confidently, and become the best version of themselves. So how do we raise empowered children? Soulveda lists a few ways.
Master the art of listening
A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to. – Author Robert Brault
Perhaps, one of the easiest ways to empower children is by simply lending our ears to them. In developmental psychology, listening to a child is referred to as ‘holding a child’s mind in mind’. By simply listening, researches show that children feel valued. Their emotions too become well-regulated, which improves their self-image and self-worth.
So, what does it take to master the art of listening? As paediatrician Claudia M Gold writes in the book The Silenced Child, “True listening comes from a stance of “not knowing,” in which we are open to imagining our way into another’s feelings, even when they are not our own.” As she further writes, it requires us to be mindful of our children’s difficult and intense feelings, while at the same time conveying a feeling of support and safety.
Choose your words carefully
The words with which a child’s heart is poisoned, whether through malice or through ignorance, remain branded in his memory, and sooner or later they burn his soul. – Novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The words we utter to our children have a profound effect on their impressionable brains. These words become their inner voice which guides them for the rest of their lives. It could affect their self-worth and self-esteem. So, while talking to children, it is wise to exercise caution.
In the book Parentspeak: What’s wrong with how we talk to children, and what to say, author Jeniffer Lehr cites a quote by late psychologist Thomas Gordon. It goes, “Every time you talk to a child, you are adding a brick to define the relationship that is being built between the two of you. And each message says something to the child about what you think of him. He gradually picks up a picture of how you perceive him as a person. Talk can be constructive to the child and the relationship, or destructive.”
Bolster their emotions
Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages. – Daniel Goleman
We often underestimate the range of emotions children experience. Even infants can feel a range of emotions such as joy, anger, sadness and fear. Emotional development occurs by the first three years of age, well before a child is exposed to the outside world. So, the sooner a child learns to understand and process their emotions, the better they’d be empowered to tackle the ups and downs of life.
KidsMatter, an initiative funded by the Australian government, lists a few ways in which parents can support their children’s emotional development. For example, by tuning into children’s emotions, parents can help them decrypt and understand their emotions. Parents can then guide them so that they learn to recognise, accept and process their emotions effectively.
Nurture a child’s core personality
Children are not things to be moulded but are people to be unfolded. – Professor and author Jess Lair
We often take a newborn child as an empty slate. We then strive to engrave on that slate, characteristics which we think would contribute to their success in life. But what if, each child was already born with a unique personality core—an inborn nature? Shouldn’t we then nurture that core?
In the book Nurture the Nature: Understanding and supporting your child’s unique core personality, author Michael Gurian writes, “The nature of your child is far more powerful than you may realize, and it provides a parenting plan and a direction for everyday life as a parent that is like no other.” So, all we can do is become aware of children’s unique personalities and come up with an action plan to support their strengths and accommodate their weaknesses.
Trust your child’s choices and decisions
Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. – Lecturer and author Alfie Kohn
We all aspire children to become independent adults. It is a life’s journey, where we teach children the lessons of creative thinking and decision-making. But when children make their own choices and decisions, how often do we agree with them—especially when the decision seems downright immature and foolish, or when the choices they make are not something we necessarily agree with?
In Love no matter what: When your kids make decisions you don’t agree with, author Brenda Garrison reminds us that children often make decisions that are not in line with our preferences. Some of their decisions could seem downright immature to us. So, what do we do then? As much as it may hurt us, we refrain from chiding them and respect their decision anyway. The more we allow children to make mistakes, the more they’d become responsible and prudent. As Garrison writes, “Our hearts should be open toward our children, so we can do whatever we are called upon to do for their benefit, whatever says to them—I love you, no matter what.”
Lead by example
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – Novelist and critic James Baldwin
How often have we tried to be all that we expect our children to become? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is, not often. Ironically, no matter what we teach our children verbally, children learn by watching us. So, instead of teaching our children to lead an empowered life, it would be wiser to simply lead one ourselves. But how do we empower ourselves?
Clinical psychologist and author Shefali Tsabary explores a few ways we can transform ourselves and empower our children in her book The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. According to her, the more we become conscious and trusting of life itself, the more we’d fall in tune with ourselves and our emotions. This way, we’d resolve our emotional issues, and break free from our own unconscious negative patterns. When we bring this approach to parenting, we’d become conscious parents, intuitively attuned to our children’s needs. We’d not only become better at empowering our children but also awaken to life lessons that children teach us. We’d then realize that parenting in itself is a spiritual experience.